Mental Health, The Gender Factor

Countless numbers of people worldwide suffer with some kind of mental health problem; roughly one in four. However there is a notable but hidden disparity between male and female sufferers.

Countless numbers of people worldwide suffer with some kind of mental health problem; roughly one in four. However there is a notable but hidden disparity between male and female sufferers.

A study (WHO, Gender Disparities In Mental Health) by the World Health Organisation revealed that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety and depression (however the study notes that women are also more likely to be misdiagnosed with depression), while men are equally more likely to suffer from substance addiction or antisocial personality disorder. Interestingly, there was no obvious difference when it came to other mental or psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia. Overall though there seems to be very similar rates of mental illness, it's just the illnesses themselves that differ.

The reasons given for the larger number of women who suffer from anxiety and depression rest in societal expectations, as opposed to any obvious biological or physiological difference. It's thought that women generally internalise their problems more, whereas men externalise their problems and find short term releases from them via substances (contributing to the higher substance addiction rates in men).

On top of this, women almost always earn less than their male counterparts, and generally women are expected to be more passive than men and do the greater share of domestic work, which is, in a sense, further unpaid labour on top of a job that pays less than it should. Women also suffer more violence and this often comes with it further mental illness. Those who suffered sexual abuse in the past are far more likely to suffer depression and anxiety in life, and horrifically, 1 in 3 rape victims develop PTSD. The psychological consequences of violence, seems to me, needs to me more widely discussed.

While women are expected to be passive, men are expected to be more active, outgoing, aggressive, and bolder, to be more 'manly'. With this in mind, men seem to be more likely to take risks, and less aware of their health and well being. This is according to an interview conducted by the Telegraph in 2014. The higher rate of antisocial personality disorder, I believe, lies again with the idea of masculinity. There does seem to be a slightly generally accepted and endorsed relationship between the notion of 'being a man' and aggression. The origins of this are ancient and multifaceted, and not always societal.

It has been found that unusually high testosterone levels are found in particularly aggressive and violent men.

This suggests something horrible, that the high rate of anti-social personality disorder in men contributes to the high rate of gender based violence between men and women (generally, men to women) which in turn increases the likelihood of mental illness in affected women. There is a terrible circular structure to this.

With all the above in mind then, it is interesting to note that while women are twice as likely to experience anxiety and depression, 75% of all suicides are committed by men. Logically, as there seem to be more female sufferers of depression and anxiety than men, it would be assumed that the suicide rates would correlate, but the opposite it true.

Why is this?

The most obvious answer is that depression and anxiety aren't the only mental health conditions that lead to suicidal behaviour. This is especially relevant when you consider men are more likely to suffer from drug addiction where there is an obvious risk of overdosing either on purpose, or accidentally.

It's also felt that men tend be less likely to speak openly and seek help for their mental health problems, perhaps out of some fear that it might make them seem weak, or unmanly by seeking treatment. This makes the problems develop further, untreated, in their mind.

However, it has been suggested (Weissman, Bland, et al 'Prevalence of suicide ideation...' 1999) that, despite the much higher rate of male suicides, more women than men actually attempt suicide.

Perhaps men use methods that are tragically more , more violent, more likely to make any suicide complete.

This relates to some data I saw where the most common method of suicide in men in the USA was through firearms, and most common for women was poison.

The differences in mental health between men and women seem clear. Detached and distanced, but also possibly intrinsically connected and related. The problems seem to stem from the contexts and daily issues and stresses faced by those who suffer. Again, the solution to this, to me, seems to lie in open dialogue and communication. People should feel free to speak openly about how they feel without fear of going against some outdated set of behaviours expected by society.

Before You Go